How voter ID opponents defeated the amendment

Voter ID protest
College students from throughout the state, alongside Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, gathered on Oct. 23, 2012, at the University of Minnesota to speak out against the proposed voter ID constitutional amendment.
MPR News/Tim Pugmire

Bud Johnston's decision about whether he would support the proposed voter identification amendment on Tuesday's ballot came down to the wire.

For weeks, Johnston, of Pipestone, waffled between his belief that voters should provide identification in one way or another and his question about whether altering the state's constitution permanently was a good idea.

"I just thought about it quite a bit and just couldn't really make up my mind," Johnston said. "The very words 'constitutional amendment' just really turned me off."

Ultimately, Johnston voted against the proposal, which would have required voters to show photo identification at the polls in an effort to prevent what proponents argued is widespread voter fraud.

He's just one of many voters who helped swing public opinion against the constitutional amendment in the last days of the campaign. For months, it appeared that the voter ID amendment would pass. As late as the end of October, two polls found the proposal had a healthy lead among voters.

But at the start of this week, a new KSTP/SurveyUSA poll showed support and opposition for the amendment to be tied. And Tuesday night, the amendment that appeared poised for success, failed.

So, what happened?

GOOD TURNOUT FOR DEMOCRATS

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the primary author of the legislation that put the amendment on the ballot, said she started to worry that her proposal would struggle at the polls just a few days ago when it started to appear that Democrats were poised for a good Election Night in Minnesota.

Voter ID supporters
Voter ID supporters gather in an Eagan parking lot on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 before a weekend distribution of campaign literature.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Good turnout for Democrats would mean a bad night for her proposal, she said.

"I think it was a combination of a lot of money, and targeting and just plain plugging away at saying the same inaccurate statements again and again in regards to cost," Kiffmeyer said referring to the popular talking point among amendment opponents that a voter ID law would cost local governments a lot of money. "I think all of that had a cumulative effect. Plus it was just a great big Democrat vote on top of it all."

But Kiffmeyer also said that ProtectMyVote, a political fund aimed at passing the amendment and spearheaded by Minnesota Majority, never made the money or found the partners it needed to keep up with the opposition's outreach effort.

COMPETITION WITH MARRIAGE AMENDMENT

That was partly due to the fact that proponents of the voter ID amendment had to compete with the higher-profile proponents of the marriage amendment for cash and support, Kiffmeyer said.

Packing up signs
Don Dickerson of St. Paul packs up signs from the Protect My Vote election night event for supporters of the voter ID amendment at O'Gara's Bar and Grill in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
MPR Photo/Nate Ryan

"I think there were a lot of people that felt very confident -- I heard it over and over again -- that photo ID was going to pass, just as you have said," Kiffmeyer said. "So people would say, 'Well it's going to pass anyway, why do I need to give money to something that's going to pass anyway?'"

All told, ProtectMyVote.com raised $1.5 million for its campaign - half the amount that Our Vote, Our Future raised to defeat the amendment, which allowed them to do more phone-banking and more voter education than the proponents.

But even though Our Vote, Our Future ultimately had the fundraising upper hand, ACLU lobbying coordinator Carolyn Jackson said opponents weren't always confident that they could defeat voter ID.

SPREADING THE WORD THROUGH CONVERSATIONS

Two and a half years ago, the Voting Rights Coalition, which Jackson is involved in, started asking whether voter fraud existed in Minnesota and whether a voter ID law would prevent it. After researching the issue and finding that there was no fraud, members of the coalition started talking to people about their findings.

"As we talked to people that we knew about this, they're like 'This is a terrible idea,'" Jackson said. "So we knew two and a half years ago that if you had conversations with people, they very quickly saw this was not common sense. It was actually very complicated for certain sectors of the population."

But while it initially appeared that conversations explaining the ramifications of voter ID were effective, they were complicated, Jackson said. Meanwhile, proponents had the neat talking point that a voter ID law was just common sense, since photo IDs are required to buy liquor, for instance.

Carlson, Colemans
From left, former Gov. Arne Carlson, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and his wife Connie have a conversation at the Our Vote Our Future election night celebration party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at Saint Paul RiverCentre in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Anthony Kwan

Nevertheless, conversations became a key part of Our Vote, Our Future's campaign strategy, said Dan McGrath, Executive Director of TakeAction Minnesota, a group that helped form Our Vote, Our Future. Opponents started gathering a coalition that could educate individual communities that could be affected by a voter ID law.

"As important was our message, were the people delivering the message," McGrath said. "If you're going to ask someone to take a second look at something they believe to be common sense, you have to be a credible person."

Spreading the message included bringing faith-based leaders, election officials and other community organizations into the fold, McGrath said.

"We were not going to persuade in a sound bite," McGrath said. "These had to be focused, in-person conversations, and talking people through how much is this going to cost our local community. What does this mean for my grandmother in nursing home, or my college student who just left for school. Talking through those scenarios is what shifted those polls."

Indeed, over time, polls started to show that support for the amendment was narrowing. Our Vote, Our Future's strategy also included old-fashioned campaign tactics, too, including phone-banking, door-knocking and rallies.

As the election got closer, the primary vehicle for reaching voters was through phone calls. The night before the election, TakeAction Minnesota had four phone banks in three cities dialing 20,000 voters every hour, McGrath said.

TWO GOVERNORS OPPOSED IT

And then there was a last-minute ad featuring Gov. Mark Dayton and former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, both encouraging voters to reject the amendment.

McGrath said voters found the spot to be very effective because it included two prominent Minnesota leaders, and Kiffmeyer said she heard people say the same thing.

Good timing also played a role in Our Vote, Our Future's last-minute success.

"This campaign peaked at the right time. We never saw the 'vote yes' side go below 50 percent in the polls until 72 hours before Election Day," McGrath said, referring to the final KSTP poll.

For her part, Kiffmeyer remains optimistic that voter ID will have a place, even in the now-DFL controlled Legislature.

She points out that Dayton said in the Our Vote, Our Future ad that Minnesotans should reject the voter ID proposal and send it back to the Legislature to "get it right."

"I'm going to take the governor at his word," Kiffmeyer said. "He said to everybody out there on TV and so on, 'send it back to the Legislature and fix it.' So, I'm reaching out to Gov. Dayton and saying 'I'll take you at your word, governor. Let's work together and do exactly what you said."

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